Monday, August 31, 2015

Northlands Saga: Vikings Interrupt Blog Series
Interrupting the series on old-school DMing methods ... vikings. Frog God Games is starting our Northlands Saga Kickstarter today, and it has a Swords & Wizardry (0E, old-school, etc.) version for those of us who don't play Pathfinder. I'm not going to include the "Venture Into Adventure!!" type sales blurb -- it's on the Kickstarter page, and if you like vikings at all, you'll at least be headed there to take a look.

These are excellent adventures (once exception that's not excellent but still solid), and the feel of the thing is like R.E. Howard wrote the Elder Eddas, and Clark Ashton Smith edited it. I'm still in the process of doing the conversions -- the book is written, and the only two missing components are the remaining art (which is coming in at the speed of art) and the conversions (which are being done at the speed of conversions).

For those following the Lost Lands world setting, which is the campaign containing all the old Necromancer Games adventures from the old days, this book is part of the Lost Lands.

This is an "adventure path," which for Pathfinder means that it's a campaign series taking your characters from level 1 to a billion. In S&W, it's altered a bit to make it a linked series like G1-G3, and it goes from level 1 to level 9. A few stretches in terms of the experience gathering there, as one might expect, because it simply compresses level acquisition into too short a period of adventuring.  It's a non-issue if you plan to use the adventures as stand-alone pieces interjected as possibilities into the campaign when the characters reach the right levels. If you want to run it as a series, the progression works, but it would still be beneficial to throw in a few side adventures, IMO.

This is a good one.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Old School Methods 3: Appraisal Skill

The appraisal skill basically lets you guess (accurately or not) at the value of an item. As an in-game, hardwired skill, it basically gives the player a basis for bargaining with someone when selling treasure. This is mildly valuable, since if you're going to involve some bargaining then the seller has to have a basis for asking one price or another. How to handle this?

How is it a test of player skill as opposed to a test of the character sheet?
The job here is to involve player skill in some way (if it's highest quality) or make it an interesting, game-within-a-game test of the character sheet, or else there's no real point to it other than perhaps making a die roll to see how much the treasure (or whatever) actually goes for -- perfectly fine in a regular home-made adventure, a bit weak if you're charging for it.

Most likely this is addressed as an opportunity for a bit of roleplaying, to let the players bargain with an imaginary person, switching up the pace for a short time from die rolling. That's valuable if it's done right. How do you introduce this little bargaining session in a meaningful way?

Given the above, it seems like the optimal approach is either to just hand the players a number they think the item is worth (without needing to randomize it), or to give them a couple of pieces of information they can use in the back-and-forth of a quick haggling session. "The dwarf sees that the gem has a slight flaw." "The fighter notices that the horse has a slight limp." "The thief recognizes this as an antique from the Quoo-Am dynasty, adding additional value." Then they can either feel that they have to hide a problem (directing the buyer's attention away from the limping horse by pointing out the beautiful sunset as you describe the buyer starting to check the horse's legs" or little seeds for fun interactions like that. The focus isn't really on the value of the item, it's on creating a couple of seeds for fun (and SHORT) breaks in the action. Everyone remembers the "These are not the droids you're looking for" scene. Really that's just a traffic stop with a bit of interaction with the cops and a quick-thinking response. The goal with treating appraisals in this way is to create the "Not these droids" encounter, not to actually measure or set the value of treasure.

Handling it this way (examples)
As above. "The [character] notices that the [treasure] is/has [flaw or additional value]. A regular [treasure] is probably going to be sold for [their guess, just hand the number to them], but the [flaws or extras] might drive the price up/down to [top or bottom of negotiating range]. This creates a simple situation where the characters already know the approximate value of a regular item, and know how much their roleplaying could earn them.

If it's not worth roleplaying, just tell them the value so they can write it on the treasure list and move on to the action. It may be worthwhile to give them a value in the country and in the city, to give them a meaningful decision about where to go next.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Old School conversions 2: Acrobatics

This is useful for anyone writing adventures because even though it's phrased as a conversion handbook (which is why I'm writing it) it is also a plethora of methods to use if you're writing an adventure from scratch.

So, that said, I decided to start at the beginning of the various types of challenges, so I'm looking at both the Pathfinder and the 5e rulebooks, going down the skill lists, since these define a number of different discrete challenges. They make a useful pre-generated list of challenge types. Today: acrobatic challenges

Acrobatic Challenges
Both Pathfinder and 5e have an acrobatics skill, designed for staying on your feet or generally keeping your balance. What are various old-school methods for handling this type of challenge? This is the narrow path, the tightrope, and the shifting surface.

Old-School Elements
Character Sheet: The ability to handle situations like this is contained within a couple of different factors in the old school approach. (1) the dexterity score, without reference to any additional trained skill. (2) the thief class as opposed to the other classes. (3) Wearing armor or otherwise being encumbered, which is almost always used as a factor in situations involving dexterity. (4) Race: depending on the nature of the shifting ground, a non-human race might get a racial consideration in whatever method the Referee uses. Elves in trees, dwarves on shifting stone, something along these lines. Moreover, level is always a consideration in old school approaches, since it tends to be more emphasized than ability scores (depending on the edition). Level can be just the number, or can be reflected by saving throws.

Player Skill: All of the above factors are challenges to the character sheet rather than player skill. What additional elements of player skill might be involved in an acrobatic situation? Counterweights of some kind, like the way a tightrope walker carries a pole, are the only thing that occurs to me, but something might spring out in the description of the specific situation.

Success, Failure, and Sliding-scale success
Many successes aren't a yes-or-no proposition. There is the chance for partial success, or for degrees of success. On acrobatic situations, the various possibilities include (but aren't limited to) perfect success, freezing in place (can't proceed but no bad result), sliding, tumbling, looking stupid, falling to take lesser damage, making a noise but succeeding, and total failure (falling for full damage or whatever).

Example List of Resolution Methods
(Remember, the initial description probably already describes some bad results, but these may also need to be modified). The first 6 tests are automatic and fast, depending on a single number on the character sheet, or a single die roll. The seventh and eighth entries are more complicated methods for if the challenge is important in the adventure (otherwise it's not worth the time).

(1)  Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 1: Each character must roll 1d6. Rolling a 1 means the character falls.
(2) Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 2: Any character other than a thief will fall.
(3) Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 3: Any character wearing plate mail will fall.
(4) Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 4:Any character with a dexterity score lower than 13 will fall [that's a check where only the better-than-average will succeed. If it's an easier situation, use lower than 9 to catch only the characters with lower-than-average Dex]
(5) Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 5: Any character of level 4+ may remain standing, all others fall
(6) Simple Stand-Fall Challenge with Simple Result 6: Each character must make a saving throw [possibly with bonus or penalty depending on general difficulty]
(7) Ability Score Complex Stand-Fall Challenge: The characters must roll [3d6, 4d6, 1d20] and compare the result to the dexterity score. If the result is less than or equal to the character's dexterity, the character [describe total success]. Thieves do not need to make the check at all [alternatively, they get a -4 or so on the die roll to reflect greater skill]. Anyone wearing plate mail must add +2 to the die roll. [usually plate mail is the only victim of this sort of thing, but "metal armor" is a more wide-ranging penalty]
(8) Saving Throw Complex Stand-Fall Challenge: The characters must roll a saving throw or fall. Thieves get a +4 [or so] on the saving throw. Anyone wearing plate mail has a penalty of -2 [or so] on the roll. [usually plate mail is the only victim of this sort of thing, but "metal armor" is a more wide-ranging penalty]

Example List of Fail/Succeed Results
Only the Ability Score or the Saving Throw types of checks give you enough of a numerical spread to generate a sliding scale of failure and success.
(1) Simple: Fall and take damage
(2) Simple: Fall prone and cannot progress
(3) Simple: Fall and stunned for [time period relevant to this part of the adventure: rounds if in combat, turns if not]
(4) Simple: Fall and knocked out for [relevant time period]
(5) Complex (saving throw): If the saving throw succeeded by 2 or more over the target number ..., if the saving throw was exactly or only 1 above the target number, ...
(6) Complex (ability check): If the number rolled was 3+ points under the character's dexterity, then ...... If the number rolled was more than 2 points over the character's dexterity, then...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Old School Conversion Methods Part One - Theory

This is the first of the newschool - to - oldschool conversion notes I made recently. I'm talking D&D systems here, not general old-school "theory." This series is about nuts and bolts, with the slight exception of this introductory entry.

Conversions: System Matters
I don't think of conversion as a numerical process; you can't "plug and chug" through a newschool module converting to old school methods, because there's no single old school "rule," and often the method is (and should be) different according to the intended potential results of the situation.

In the next issue I'm going to cover a couple of "climbing" scenarios, but a moment about the general theory, as I see it, of good conversion. The point of conversion is to take a good adventure idea, and the structure of the adventure, and then adapt the details to fit the strengths of the new system, avoiding its weaknesses. In other words, writing to the system instead of the numbers. System matters, numbers don't.

Method: Discrete Challenges
In general, I'm writing at one of the possible micro-levels of conversion, breaking an adventure down into discrete particles of "challenges." It might be a mapping challenge, combat challenge, climbing challenge, swimming challenge, etc. Most adventures are composed of a series of such challenges, no matter what they might look like from the outside. Indeed, part of good adventure writing is to conceal this fact by blending the challenges together, describing them in non-numerical terms, and other tricks that conceal the squares of the players' decision tree.

There are essentially two "pure" sorts of challenges, plus the hybrid situation where they are mixed (which is the most common form in both new and old school gaming). The pure forms are (1) challenge to the character sheet, and (2) challenge to player (PLAYER) skill.

All challenges have, or should have, a set of possible results that can affect the party's success and capabilities down the road. Otherwise it's pointless unless it's a self-contained potential source of experience points, and even there it affects party capabilities, just not in the short term and on a different level of the game.

General Strengths of Old-School: the conversion's sweet-spot target
The general strength of old school systems is that you can pose challenges to the players themselves (puzzles with no default to a dice roll being the clearest case) without having the test of skill be sidetracked or constrained by pre-existing rules or elements of character generation. In many new-school games, players invest lots of time in pre-planning for what they may face, and picking skills accordingly. Bypassing those skill rules is slightly unfair to the players, since it's hardwired into the game. On the other hand in old school gaming there's no constraint about the structure of player-challenge puzzles. It's structured however the GM/DM wants to structure it.

Lack of pre-set form for a player-challenge puzzle is a strength of old-school systems. For one thing, it's a hell of a lot easier to WRITE them. It's hard enough to think up cool mental challenges without also having to structure them with lots of possible skills that might bypass the thinking. "OOps, I forgot that Knowledge (linguistics) can let them read this ancient warning without using the book from Area 7." Stuff like that.

Variation of Method
Some people complain that old-school systems aren't streamlined with single-resolution methods. I think this is a strength, in that it provides variety. Providing a variety of resolution methods, games-within-games, etc. is one of the sweet-spots to work towards. Things don't always work the same way, they conform to a specific situation. That's a strength, it keeps people on their toes, which means it keeps them excited.

So the goals, in looking at discrete challenge situations, are to: (a) write toward challenging the players, with less emphasis on using the elements of a character sheet. In most cases, since these are almost all hybrids of player vs. character sheet challenges, the character sheet is still going to come into play on each one;  (b) include a variety of methods for resolving the parts of a challenge that challenge the character sheet. Blending them with player skill in different ways, which is possible when you have different resolution methods. I know this probably sounds densely theoretical, but the next issues should hopefully make it a lot clearer when it's reduced to the mechanical engineering rather than the physics.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Frog God Games re: Center Stage Miniatures

Okay, this is long, but it's the Frog God Games Apology-Giveaway for the fiasco with the Center Stage Minatures Kickstarters that we licensed our monster images to. Bottom line, free pdfs dollar for dollar on your loss to the CSM Kickstarters.

Frog God Games is well aware of the disappointment, frustration, and monetary loss suffered by backers of the two Centre Stage Miniatures Kickstarters, Tome of Horrors Complete and Tome of Horrors Complete II, for which we had licensed monster images to CSM. Lots of our most loyal fans bought miniatures because they have our monster books and wanted miniatures for monsters from those books. When those Kickstarters did not deliver their products we watched in dismay as backers were left with nothing to show for their support of the Kickstarter campaigns. While Frog God Games did not run the Kickstarters, have control of the manufacture or delivery of its products, nor have any affiliation with Centre Stage Miniatures beyond the licensing of our art properties for the purposes of the Kickstarters, they did involve our licensed materials, and we did publicly support the Kickstarter campaigns. Since that time we have been looking for a way to lessen the blow suffered by the backers of the campaigns in a show of good will to our fans and those who might have supported the campaigns because they saw our name associated with it.
In recent dialogue on public forums with some of the backers of these Kickstarters, it was suggested to us that maybe we could offer free pdfs from our own product catalogue to backers of those Kickstarters so they could at least have something to show for their support. This was something we had considered doing at the time when the Kickstarters first seemed to have failed in their promised delivery of miniatures. At the time we thought an offer like that might be seen as adding insult to injury for trying to somehow diminish the severity of the loss suffered by the backers or otherwise wholly inadequate and inappropriate for the occasion. However, from our recent discussions with backers, we have learned that some would be receptive to such an offer as a way to at least ease their frustration.
We’ve spent the last few days talking about the logistics of how to do this because we’re a company of part-time gamers, not very automated, and lots of backers are involved here. Unquestionably there are going to be a lot of glitches and delays as we get a handle on the process. There’s also got to be an absolute time limit on this program to not only limit the consumption of our already-limited technical resources but also to protect us from a potentially years-long process of receiving, processing, verifying, and tracking these orders—a task of no small measure for our technical limitations.
As a result of this process, for the next 6 months Frog God Games is opening the pdf catalogue of our online store at and will give store credit for pdf purchases to match dollar-for-dollar the amount that a backer paid to the Tome of Horrors Complete and/or Tome of Horrors Complete II Kickstarters from Centre Stage Miniatures. Obviously there are some difficult logistics involved in this both to verify backers for the issuance of the credit and to handle the resulting online transactions. To try and create a smooth process and save the sanity of our web master and keep him from being overrun with countless details to keep track of, we will initiate the following processes:
1. If you were a backer of either the Tome of Horrors Complete or Tome of Horrors Complete II Kickstarters from Centre Stage Miniatures, please send an email to Chris at In the subject line of your email include the name under which you pledged to either or both Kickstarters, indicate whether it was one or both Kickstarters, and include the total amount you pledged to both of them combined (Example subject line: Joe Backer, TOH and TOH2, $375). Include in the body of the email any screenshots, emails, or other documentation you have to show your support as a backer and the amount of the Kickstarter pledges that you made. (We’re not looking for some kind of legal standard of evidence here; we just need to be able to see that you were in fact a supporter of the Kickstarters and for what amount to help us sift out any unscrupulous opportunists who were otherwise unassociated with these Kickstarters and just see this as an opportunity to take advantage of our offer for free products.)
2. Chris has prepared coupons to the web store in increments of $25, $50, $100, $150, $200, $250, $300, $350, $400, $450, $500, $600, $700, $800, $900, and $1,000. He will respond to your email with one of these web store coupons in the full amount of your documented pledges, rounded up to the nearest coupon increment. For example, if you pledged $200 between the two Kickstarters, you will receive a coupon in the amount of $200. However, if your pledges total $201 you will receive coupons totaling $250, so Chris will not have to worry about creating hundreds of different coupons unique to individual backers. As a small game company, that sort of thing is frankly beyond the capacity of our personnel and online resources to handle. (Please note that if your pledge total was in excess of $1,000, Chris will issue multiple coupons in increments to get you closest to your pledge rounded up.)
3. In addition to the above offer, we are aware that due to hard drive crashes, loss of email accounts, and various and sundry other reasons all backers may not have documentation of their backing of the Tome of Horrors Kickstarters or may not be able to show the amount by which they backed one or both of the Kickstarters. To reasonably account for this we make this additional offer. If you cannot show us documentation of your support of one or both of the Kickstarters, send us an email at the above address and in the subject line state your name, the name of the Kickstarter(s) you backed, and write “No Documentation” (Example subject line: Joe Computercrash, TOH and TOH2, No Documentation). There is no need to include any information in the body of the email. In these cases we will take your word for it and will issue a coupon to you in the amount of $25. We apologize for being unable to honor higher dollar values in these instances, as we will already be opening ourselves to considerable exposure to illegitimate claimants, however we will honor emails sent to us in this manner, no questions asked. Please be advised, though, we will not issue more than one of these coupons to a single individual.
4. Please be sure that the email account through which you have sent these emails is one that Chris can reply to with the attached coupons and will not be sent to a spam folder or otherwise lost. This process is already going to be putting a great deal of stress on a part-time employee, and we are not going to be able to spend additional resources in tracking down email errors and hiccups, so please help us to get these right on the first try.
Important Note 1: This offer has an absolute time limit of 6 months. After March 1, 2016, Frog God Games will no longer honor any claims for backers seeking to receive coupons. Emails from backers received on or prior to March 1, 2016 will be honored even if we are not able to issue the coupons until after that date due to any backlog in processing. Coupons issued under this offer do not expire on March 1, 2016 and will be good until their normal expiration date of September 1, 2016.
Important Note 2: Please note that the store credit coupons are for pdf purchases only. They will not work for the purchase of physical product or in combination with purchase of such products. If you wish to purchase physical products, you will need to do so as a separate transaction so that our fulfillment process will not get messed up. Thank you for your cooperation in this.
Important Note 3: This doesn’t affect any of the above but is intended as an FYI to anyone that is intending to buy a physical product as well. All purchases of a Frog God Games physical book include the pdf of that book for free as well, so don’t use your coupons to buy the pdf of a book that you were already going to buy the physical copy of anyway.
Disclaimer (because we legally have make sure this stuff is clearly stated): Frog God Games is not affiliated with Centre Stage Miniatures or any of its principles and is not serving in any agency capacity for these entities. This offer of free pdfs is not considered or intended as a release of any claims or rights enjoyed by the backers in relation to the above-mentioned Kickstarters, and the claim or use of these pdf coupons is not intended to be considered as binding to the recipient for any legal purposes. Furthermore, in creating this pdf-coupon redemption offer Frog God Games is not making any statement or claim in regards to the Kickstarters, their outcomes, their hosts, their backers, or any pending claims or legal matters in regards to the Kickstarters or related entities.

Converting Adventures from Newer School

So, I've been almost totally absent from the internet, other than lurking, for about a year. The reason is that since I got appointed (drafted) to be president of Necromancer Games, I've been pretty deep in writing, organizing, administrating, and doing conversions of adventures other people wrote for either Pathfinder or for 5e.

While it has been a lot of fun, it's left me with a lot of interesting thoughts about gaming, and obviously I'm one of THOSE people who are compelled to put ideas onto paper and riffle them out like cards onto the internet for other people to draw or discard. I'm an Ideadealer. New word!

One of the things I've been doing recently is putting together an idea-book for how to convert certain game-elements of a newer school game into methods that work for the suite of older-school games like Swords&Wizardry, AD&D, OD&D, B/X D&D, etc. (S&W listed first since it's the specific conversion I've been covering.

Unless laziness strikes, I'll start putting up some of these conversion elements one at a time. They are things like how to alter a Pathfinder "Climbing Challenge," "Ability Score Damage," "Big Traps," and so forth. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can stick to the plan. :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Winter is Coming

The champion was Uth’ilopiq, and Althunak set him as prince of the city of Oosqwai at the eastern end of the Wailing Mountains where they met the gray sea.